Some eight months after the Arab Spring reached the streets of Syria, the pressure on beleaguered President Bashar al-Assad is beginning to show. Whilst remaining defiant and continuing to deploy his troops against protestors, the tyrant may be on the verge of making his first diplomatic concessions- agreeing on Tuesday to an Arab League led deal intended to end the crackdown.
Actual details of the deal remain sketchy, though appear to revolve around opening dialogue with the protestors, and pulling soldiers- who have so far killed some three thousand people – off the streets. Of course, a dictator’s word is tenuous at best, but this may be the clearest evidence yet, to support assertions that Assad is otherwise running out of options.
Indeed, his consistent reversion to brute force has categorically failed to quell the opposition’s brave and unrelenting street demonstrations. Since March the protestors have faced the most abhorrent abuses, including death squads slaughtering civilians in hospitals and ambulances, yet their resolve remains unbroken. In fact, if anything they are growing stronger, with defectors from Assad’s army becoming better organised in order to challenge those still loyal to the regime.
Notably Assad’s allies abroad have also begun to desert him. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan initially tip-toed around the massacres across the border, seeking to limit the flow of refugees and prevent any emboldening of Kurdish forces, without upsetting his friends in Damascus. That has all now changed, with his government praising the protestors, preparing sanctions and actively discussing the prospect of setting up a buffer-zone on Syrian soil, to protect those fleeing the violence.
And whilst Assad recently praised Russia for standing by his side, China –which has longed supported his regime and joined Russia in vetoing even a condemnatory resolution at the UN, has shown signs of movement- urging Assad to “respect and respond to the aspirations and rightful demands of the Syrian people.”
Such developments could ultimately combine to fatally undermine the man who has ruled Syria with an iron fist since the death of his father eleven years ago. As things stand, calls from the protestors for international military protection are almost certain to remain unanswered, not least because of Assad’s significant potential to sow regional instability, as he demonstrated this week by having four members of the opposition abducted from inside Lebanon and mines laid along the border. Yet if the protestors continue to hold out whilst more troops defect, external pressure grows and ‘soft options’ such as buffer zones are implemented, the kind of military intervention undertaken in Libya may not be needed at all.
It could be recognition of this fact that led Assad to accept the Arab League deal, after all, the images of Gaddafi’s gruesome end must have caused him to, at least briefly, reflect upon the possible consequences if the unbreakable nature of the uprising is sustained.
The Syrian people have demonstrated enormous courage and persistence in bringing a once invincible dictator to the brink. The international community – from governments to citizens such as those rallying in London last weekend, must now continue to support them…then Syria’s unbridled resistance, may herald a new dawn.